Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today expressed her grave concerns over the holdup in Rohingya repatriation as the international attention is gradually shifting from the issue to newer global and internal conflicts in Myanmar, calling upon the UN and global community to take effective measures for their sustainable repatriation to their motherland.
"The UN and international partners need to undertake tangible actions and projects to create an environment conducive for sustainable repatriation," she said while addressing a high-level side event on the Rohingya issue at her place of residence here.
To give a permanent solution to the Rohingya crisis, the prime minister urged the global community to support the Rohingyas politically and financially alongside intervening in the proceedings before the International Court of Justice, International Criminal Court and national courts, including supporting the Gambia in the ICJ, in order to enforce international law and to strengthen the fight against human rights violations in Myanmar.
She also stressed the need for creating pressure on Myanmar to stop the continued repression of ethnic and religious minorities alongside strongly asking for Myanmar's adherence to its commitments under ASEAN's Five-Point Consensus, and make efforts so that Myanmar agrees for unhindered humanitarian access.
The prime minister, who is now in New York to attend the 77th UNGA, said that the ASEAN, as a regional body, and individual member countries, with their deeper historic relationship and leverage vis-à-vis Myanmar, can take the lead role in such comprehensive engagement.
They should undertake elaborate efforts to fully implement the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, including the core one of creating a pathway for citizenship for the Rohingyas, she observed.
Their meaningful presence as civilian observers will boost the confidence of the Rohingyas for voluntary return, she added.
The premier reiterated that Bangladesh is against any form of impunity from justice and will support any initiative to ensure justice.
While the current focus of the international community, UN and ASEAN, is to bring back normalcy in Myanmar, she said, Bangladesh looks forward to their stronger role to ensure sustainable repatriation of the Rohingyas to their homeland; and to bring peace and justice to the Myanmar people.
The prime minister said the world is now witnessing new conflicts arising around the globe, and unfortunately attention is gradually shifting from the Rohingya crisis – both in finding its political solution and in meeting the growing humanitarian needs.
She added: "As of August 2022, only 48% of the appealed amount of $881 million under JRP 2022 has been funded. At the same time, the spill-over adverse impact of the internal conflicts in Myanmar in recent times keeps us deeply concerned, as this might create further obstacles for the prospect of commencing their repatriation."
Sheikh Hasina told the global community that Bangladesh has stepped into the sixth year of the prolonged Rohingya crisis, without seeing a single of them return to their homes.
"The current crisis originated in Myanmar, and its solution lies there. Systematic exclusion and indiscriminate persecutions against Rohingyas by successive Governments of Myanmar since the 1960s led to their continued influx into Bangladesh," she said.
Today, the accumulated number of the Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs) sheltered in Bangladesh is about 1.2 million, she said.
Expressing her grave concern, she said the protracted stay of Rohingyas in Bangladesh poses enormous challenges to their development aspirations.
"The hosting of 1.2 million Rohingyas has flared into various fronts. We have to spend around USD 1.22 billion every year for the Rohingyas, The loss of biodiversity, loss of forest area of around 6,500 acres of land, and the adverse effects on the local population is immeasurable," she said.
She added that Bangladesh has also been carrying the load in terms of societal and demographic balance, domestic and regional security, and the combat against violent extremism.
The premier said Bangladesh remains thankful to the international community for their strong humanitarian and political support, bilaterally as well as multilaterally.
"The Rohingyas need international actors' continued solidarity for their sustenance while they wait for a better and safer future in their homeland," she observed.
The prime minister observed that targeted sanctions of a few selected individuals cannot have a binding impact on Myanmar.
She added: "The political will of the Myanmar authorities is crucial to resolve the crisis. Increasing trade and military relations with Myanmar is promoting the interest of Myanmar."
Bangladesh maintains that the question of international justice and accountability will be critical in finding a durable solution to the Rohingya crisis and an important confidence-building measure for the sustainable repatriation of the Rohingyas, she said.
Sheikh Hasina said that the Rohingyas have been living since the 8th Century in Arakan which is now the Rakhine State of Myanmar.
In 1948, when Myanmar became independent, she said, the new government passed the Union Citizenship Act defining which ethnicities could gain citizenship.
It targeted the Rohingyas as aliens of different races, she said, adding that thereafter, in 1982, a new citizenship law was passed which did not recognize Rohingyas as one of the country's 135 ethnic groups.
However, in 1952, when U Nu became President, he included in his cabinet two Muslim Rohingyas- U Raschid as Minister of Trade and Development, and the other Sultan Mahmud as Minister of Health, she said.
His parliament also had six Muslim Rohingyas, namely Abdul Bashar, Mrs. Zohora Begum, Abul Khair, Abdus Sobhan, Rashid Ahmed, Nasiruddin, and two Parliamentary Secretaries, Sultan Ahmed and Abdul Ghaffar, she added.
"It was evident that Muslim Rohingyas still had standing as citizens as only citizens could be in the cabinet and the Parliament," she said.
The prime minister said since the beginning, Bangladesh has always sought for a durable and peaceful solution through discussions and negotiations. The two countries signed three instruments after the exodus in 2017.
"Two attempts were made in 2018 and 2019 to start repatriation. But the selected Rohingyas were unwilling to return in the absence of a conducive environment in Rakhine," she said.
The issues of their safety and security, non-recurrence of violence, livelihood opportunities, and basic rights, including a pathway to citizenship were among their concerns, she said.
"In the backdrop of Myanmar's continued defiance of its obligations, Bangladesh resorted to other options to start repatriation discussions with the help of China, through a tripartite mechanism. Till date, not much progress has been made," she said, expressing deep concern over Rogingya repatriation.
In fact, she said Cox's Bazar is now hosting the largest refugee camp in the world, with one of the largest humanitarian operations in terms of scale and dimensions.
"Bangladesh has been trying its best, with the international community's support, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the displaced Rohingyas. They are receiving food, shelter, health care and other services," she said.
Bangladesh has also included this population in its national Covid vaccination program, she said.
Rohingyas are also having opportunities to develop their skills by attending learning facilities in Myanmar language following Myanmar Curriculum, attending skill development activities, and participating in livelihood opportunities, she said.
These are contributing to retaining their culture and language, and will ultimately help them reintegrate into their own society upon return, she said.
"We have developed a stable island namely Bhasan Char spending USD 350 million from our own resources to temporarily relocate around one hundred thousand Rohingyas. So far, around 31 thousand Rohingyas have been relocated on a voluntary basis," she informed.